Wedgwood china falls victim to credit crisis

Up to 2,700 jobs at risk as administrators try to find a buyer for historic pottery and crystal company
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The Independent Online

The future of the 200-year-old Wedgwood pottery in Stoke-on-Trent was thrown into doubt yesterday as its owner, Waterford Wedgwood, said it had called in administrators.

Up to 2,700 jobs in the UK and Ireland are at risk as the administrators try to find a buyer for the latest high-profile victim of the economic downturn. The loss-making company, which also owns brands such as Waterford Crystal and Royal Doulton pottery, had been trying to raise fresh capital but ran out of time as its lenders, primarily the Bank of America, refused to postpone interest payments for the fourth time.

The company employs up to 1,900 people in the UK, predominantly at its Barlaston pottery in Stoke-on-Trent, while a further 800 staff are employed at its glass factory in Waterford. Thousands more jobs worldwide are threatened by the potential closure of its retailing arm which has 600 outlets worldwide as well as nine stores in Britain and 120 retail concessions with larger high street chains.

News of Waterford Wedgwood's collapse yesterday came amid further grim news on the high street where many well-known names have collapsed in recent weeks.

Last night, it was reported that Marks & Spencer is poised to cut 1,000 jobs after an awful Christmas trading period. Other major retailers are expected to have performed equally badly.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, the administrators for the children's clothing company Adams, which went into receivership on New Year's Eve, announced yesterday it would be closing all 111 stores nationwide, leading to the immediate loss of 850 jobs. The Manchester-based perfume retailer Passion for Perfume also said it had called in the administrators after cutting 194 jobs.

For fans of Waterford Wedgwood, as well as the thousands of staff employed to create the company's iconic pieces, the demise of both brands comes as a severe blow.

Workers at the Wedgwood factory in Stoke-on-Trent had been looking forward to celebrating the company's 250th anniversary. Famous for its blue and white fine china as well as its more recent partnerships with household names such as Vera Wang and Martha Stewart, Wedgwood traces its origins back to 1759 when Josiah Wedgwood, a young apprentice, set up his own pottery company in Staffordshire.

Helped by a handsome dowry from a cousin he married, Josiah began manufacturing plates from a country estate. Renowned for his perfectionism – he would often smash pottery that wasn't up to his standard – Wedgwood soon became one of the most sought-after pottery brands with European royals clamouring to make orders. After years of experimenting he managed to innovate the perfect mixture for bone-china, negating the need to transport the highly expensive and much sought-after pottery from the Far East.

Waterford, meanwhile, was established 24 years later in 1783 by two equally perfectionist brothers, William and George Penrose, and soon became a world leader in fine crystalware. Its world class chandeliers still hang in Windsor Castle and Westminster Abbey and were exported around the world. One of Waterford's most memorable creations is the crystal ball that drops in New York's Times Square to herald the new year. The original Waterford ball weighed more than 490kg and contained 504 individual crystal triangles.

The two companies merged in 1986 and were later bought by Peter John Goulandris and Sir Anthony O'Reilly. Sir Anthony also owns The Independent newspaper titles.

Speaking yesterday Sir Anthony said that everything had been done to keep the company afloat. "We are consoled only by the fact that everything that could have been done, by management and by the board, to preserve the group, was done," he said.